Jacqui-Noluthando Watson was born in the suburb of Durbanville in Cape Town, to a privileged and loving family. Growing up, Jacqui was unaware of the inequalities in South Africa – like most children from a middle-class upbringing. However, a family holiday to the coast brought to light the vast discrepancies between Jacqui’s own environment and that of other children living in less fortunate circumstances. Whilst walking along the beach, Jacqui was approached by a group of young boys who hoped to sell some beaded trinkets they had made in order to be able to afford food for their next meal. The encounter disturbed Jacqui to such a degree that she later approached her father to ask why the children were forced to craft and sell items to buy food. Her father explained to her that there were those in South Africa that lived in vastly different circumstances to that which she had experienced. This unfortunate realisation was a pivotal moment for Jacqui, and would come to play a massive role in determining her future career path.
In her Matric year, Jacqui applied for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Scholarship as she felt that the values of the Foundation resonated with her own beliefs. Jacqui underwent a gruelling selection process; the pinnacle of which was the Fellows Selection Camp. Jacqui found herself flung into an unfamiliar environment with students from completely different backgrounds and walks of life.
This experience made Jacqui realise that although she had always considered herself proudly South African, she had never fully comprehended the different contexts in which other individuals in South Africa abided within, and that the environment in which she had been raised was barely representative of the rest of South Africa’s youth.
Jacqui was admitted into the Allan Gray Fellowship and went on to complete her Business Science Marketing degree at the University of Cape Town. However, upon graduating, Jacqui realised that her true passion lied within education and not in marketing, as it was in teaching that she felt she could make a more significant contribution to her environment.
Jacqui’s choice to leave her comfortable life in Cape Town to teach in a township in Soweto was not an easy one. The decision was a true test of Jacqui’s commitment: although she cared about the quality of education provided to South Africa’s youth and even ran an NPO which focused on tutoring underprivileged children, would she be able to leave the security of her home for the formidable and unruly classrooms of Soweto? Jacqui decided that she was up to the challenge, packed her bags, and relocated to Johannesburg.
For Jacqui, the most challenging aspect of this decision – apart from the standard trials and tribulations that the first working year brings – has been to not lose her passion in the process. Jacqui admits that the horror stories that we read about in the newspapers concerning the education crisis are not simply isolated incidents – they are real and happen daily. Resources go unused, corporal discipline is rife, domestic violence seeps into the schools, and the internal structures of the Department of Basic Education are chaotic. In an environment where daily frustrations impact productivity, Jacqui admits that it is difficult to remain motivated. “I have to constantly remind myself why I’m standing here in front of this mountain, and push myself up it one step at a time. Some days I feel like I’m on my last legs, but then a learner gets a good grade and I breathe in the air I need to face a new day,” says Jacqui.
Jacqui lists her proudest achievement as being an active South Africa citizen. Through directly engaging with her community she strives to address the inequalities she sees around her on a daily basis. Her dream for the future is to establish her own organisation that addresses a social need yet does not rely on sponsorship to sustain it.
In her spare time, Jacqui can be found playing hockey, pursuing her passion for photography or brewing her own beer.